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years fell betwixt even the greatest part both of Christ's life and of John Baptist's. In both which, from the birth to the coming forth to preach, all the intervening time is past over in silence, not only here, but in all the other evangelists, saving one act of Christ's appearing in public about the age of twelve years, recorded by St. Luke, which was but a glance of this jewel, that lay locked up a long time after.
John the Baptist, an extraordinary person in his birth and calling, holy from the womb, a prophet, and more than a prophet; and Jesus Christ himself far more than he, his Lord and Master, the Prince of Prophets; and yet, neither of them came abroad in his ministry till about the age of thirty years, the time specified in the law for the service of the house of God. But our ignorance makes us bold and fool-hardy: we rush forward not knowing ourselves nor this calling, its excellency and holiness, and our own meanness and unholiness. This I say, not that I think measure doth punctually and literally tie us, especially the necessity of some times and the scarcity of faithful labourers being considered, upon which some may lawfully, yea, ought to be drawn forth, if unwilling and yet able.
But surely, the consideration of these examples, should give a due check and curb to our usual precipitate hearts, which in these times had need of some restraint, even in some who possibly have some competency both of abilities and true piety. Good fruit may be plucked too green, which, let alone awhile to ripen, would prove much more pleasant and profitable.
In these two, their long lying hid is so much the more remarkable, inasmuch as besides their singular fitness for appearing much sooner, they had so short a time allotted for their course; the Forerunner but about one year, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself but about three years and a half. But this was the assigned time in the Divine wisdom, which was found sufficient for the work committed to them; and what needs more? Let not any grudge for themselves, or for any other, their speedy removal, upon this conceit, that they
might, in nature's course, continue much longer, and, in ap. pearance, through their labour be still more serviceable. Let all rather study for themselves, and wish unto others, that they may be diligent in their work while their day lasts, be it short or long, faithful and fruitful in their generation, and the shorter their day is like to be, work the faster; for certainly the good of life is not in the length of it, but in the use of it.
There are betwixt our Saviour and this his messenger or forerunner, divers notable agreements: their being near of kindred; their births taking place in one year, and both foretold by an angel; and as Christ was the son of a virgin, John the son of aged parents, and a mother so long barren; little odds in the time of both their appearing to the world, and abiding in it; both sealing their doctrine with their blood. But as in these, in all, the Lord hath the pre-eminence beyond his servant, so, this faithful servant did always most willingly acknowledge it, yea, his very business was to abase himself and exalt his master; and this he did, as we find throughout his history. And those of the servants of Christ that are most honoured to be nearest him, are always the greatest abasers of themselves, the most desirous to have him honoured.
John's office, we have briefly expressed in the first verse, partly in his name John Baptist, a minister of baptism, and partly in the word joined with it, preaching. Preaching of the word was joined with baptism: John the baptist preaching in
I will not here speak of the nature of Baptism, the combinement of preaching with it, their aspect each to the other, and concurrence to one excellent end; the word unfolding the sacrament, and the sacrament sealing the word; the word, as a light, informing and clearing the sense of the seal, and it again, as a seal, confirming and ratifying the truth of the word: as you see some significant seals or signets engraven, have a word about them expressing their sense.
But truly, the word is a light, and the sacraments have in them of the same light illuminating them; and this of Baptism,
the ancients do particularly express by light. Yet are they both nothing but darkness to us, till the same light shine in our hearts for till then, we are nothing but darkness ourselves, and therefore the most luminous things are so to us: noonday is as midnight to a blind man. And we use these ordinances, the word and the sacrament, without profit and comfort for the most part, because we have not of that Divine light within us; and we have it not, because we ask it not, are not often there where it is to be had, nor earnest suitors for it for we have His word that cannot fail, that our Heavenly Father will give even this choice gift, this light, (for that is it,) His Holy Spirit to them that ask it. Then would word and sacrament be sweet to us, which now are so lifeless and unsavoury..
Ver. 2. We have in the following words the sum of his doctrine: Repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. In the point of time and the way of his ministry, he was indeed singular, yet, the substance of his doctrine is the same with those that went before, and those that came after him. All the prophets preached repentance, and joined in the prediction of this kingdom of God; and our Saviour himself, and his disciples, as you will after find, preached not only this same doctrine, but even in the same words: only this he had particular, that he stood betwixt the two, as it were, the link of law and gospel, as one calls him, and was the first that said, The kingdom of God is at hand, and pointed it out as come while he was speaking.
Repent.] This is the main purport and end of God's messages to man in all times, by all whom He hath sent, (as has been already said,) prophets, apostles, Jesus Christ and his forerunner; and still, all His ministers under the gospel, have no other in effect to say, than to call men to repentance, to bring them home to God. Man is naturally turned away from God, and is still further running away and hastening to the pit; and God is calling after him, Do not destroy yourselves, I will receive and pardon you; Oh! return, why will ye
die? And yet, men will not hearken, but run to their ruin. This word is daily preached; and yet, who almost is persuaded so much as to stop his course a little and consider what is propounded to him, much less to break off his course and return? Oh, the bountifulness and graciousness of God, who thus entreats, and still entreats base worms, whom He might tread on and crush in a moment! Oh, the wretchedness and madness of man who refuses, and still refuses those gracious entreaties! You have been called to in these terms, and where are they that return? Where are hearts breaking for their iniquities, and breaking away from them, mourning after the Lord, and longing for a look of His countenance, and desiring nothing else? Oh! that some soul might now be stirred up, and set but upon thoughts' of repenting, serious, real thoughts that would not die! The Lord will reach forth his hand and draw it to himself, though it find it cannot stir; yea, in that very desire of returning to him, he hath prevented it and touched it, and will not lose it, will not suffer it, and his begun work in it, to perish.
For the kingdom of Heaven.] Ay, this is the attractive, that which puts life and hope into the soul. Jesus Christ, peace and reconcilement in him to God, this is the kingdom of Heaven. And here it was at hand, and it came, and was published through the world. And throughout all ages of it, the Gospel is at hand, in the gracious offers of it to all that hear the word, and it is brought into the souls that believingly receive the word, and Jesus Christ revealed in it. This gives both hope to the sinner, and stirs up desires. Were there not a way of receiving him, it were in vain to call men to return; but seeing there is a ransom found, seeing the way is opened up, who is there that have eyes opened to behold that mercy, that will delay any longer, that will not hasten into it, and lay hold upon it?
The Gospel is not a doctrine of licentiousness, but the pure and sweet word of that new life which is in Christ. And though in the notion of repentance, there is an aspect to, and use of
the Law, convincing of sin and death, and working a sense of misery and sorrow from that sense, yet, all this it works most sweetly and kindly, contempered with, and adapted by, the doctrine of the Gospel; for in this they mix, and agree, and throughout all the Scriptures of both Testaments, run combined, as they do in the words of this sermon here. For this is the sum of the Law and the Gospel as they now stand to us-ward; Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Nothing is so powerful as the doctrine of free grace to convert a soul, not excluding convincements of sin by the Law, but so including them that that deadly, killing sentence, thus prepared, becomes excellently medicinal; (as the treats that are made of viper's flesh;) the Law, in regard of condemning power, being now dead, and not only dead, but so qualified by the cordial promises of the Gospel, that it does not really condemn, but only shews condemnation out of Christ, and so causes the soul to close with Christ, and find salvation and life with him as the dead viper's flesh so compounded, hath a secret virtue to advance the working of those ingredients that are in the composition against poison.
For the kingdom, &c.] This is the logic and rhetoric of the Scripture, to persuade holiness and repentance by the grace and pardon revealed in the Gospel. Those beams of love and free mercy are most powerful to melt the heart. Now, says he, the great Messias is at hand. He is come: whatsoever have been men's ways before, now they may come home unto God in him. And will not they, seeing he is come from heaven to save ? Will they not come from the way of hell, from sin, to be saved by him?-And thus the Lord Jesus is daily set before us, and, in him, free forgiveness of all that is past; and if men will perish in multitudes, they must perish; but you that have a mind to live, come to him.
Ver. 3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias.] His calling is further expressed and confirmed by a prophecy of him, designating him by the nature of a voice, The voice of one crying in the wilderness; and his cry is,